The UKZN Griot. Of Dubbing and Translation
Marketization, Foreignization, Translation. These are terms I have learned during four lengthy visits to China, 2015-2017. Marketization refers to translating Chinese enterprises from the pejorative “faked in China”, an indication of resistant pre-modernity, to “created in China”, an indication of consumerist post-modernity. Foreignization refers to translating Chinese culture abroad. And, translation means basically how to enable intercultural communication between China and the world at large.
The practice of translation involves “soft power” as China engages globally, or “Going Abroad”, as its linguists phrase it.
Where South Africa seems to be shedding its foreign language departments, and turning in on itself, China is massively investing in English language programmes and in “Foreign Studies” universities. Business communication, business linguistics and discourse analysis are applied in trying to make sense of that mysterious set of virtual relationships known as “the market”. The study of advertising and branding is big discourse analysis business, and includes study of how China is branding itself as it emerges out of its slumber.
I was the guest of the Ministry of Culture in June, under whose auspices occurred the 2017 Sino-Foreign Audiovisual Translation & Dubbing Cooperation Workshop, held in Shanghai. China is the only country in the world where cinema screens are still being continuously built, 45 000 at last 2016 count, up from 1 200 in 2001. The Shanghai Film and TV Market, associated with the Shanghai International Film Festival is an overwhelming smorgasboard of animation, electronic gizmos and visual effects exhibitions, new technologies and thousands of full length features being pitched, made, and sold. It was quite dizzying – as is UKZN’s own Durban International Film Festival where local activism often prevails but which does not include a trade exhibition component.
The Chinese cinema dragon is on the rise. Translators, dubbing technicians, directors and producers are all working with the government’s central committee to implement a “Work Plan” to promote Chinese cinema across the globe. Students and academics are actively studying translation in film and TV, e.g., as is offered at the Communication University of China (CUC): theory and history of film translation, sub-titling and dubbing, fansubbing, and translation in the digital age. Students are being trained as dubbing technicians and theorists and thousands of jobs have been created. Chinese film is not being left to chance or the vicissitudes of “the market” as was experienced during the rise of Hollywood in the early 19th Century which coincided with the demise of Hollyveld as a momentary competitor. The Festival offered an unusual interacting lattice of academics and professionals, analysis and PR, tourism and development.
My experience at the Festival reminded me of some excellent CUC student presentations offered on film translation at a 2015 intercultural communication conference held in Hong Kong, and some of the hilarious mistranslations - especially of a sexual nature - that result. “Fruitful mishaps” was how one delegate from the California Institute of the Arts put them. These, she suggested, “aid differance” (as used by the French language deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida). And, thereby holds an extraordinary tale of Chinese academic and policy ingenuity.
During my 2016 sojourn at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) I interacted with scholars all debating China’s place in the world – through the study of both Chinese and Western philosophies, going back to Hegel – a 17th Century German scholar and Confucius, who lived two centuries earlier, and whose philosophy fundamentally influenced early American presidents. To understand ‘the West’ my Chinese cultural studies colleagues argued that they needed to understand Western philosophy and how people in the West ‘make sense’. From a Cultural China standpoint, they were studying how identities form, hybridize and interact. At every conference the question was, how to ‘go global’ peacefully, how to negotiate with America thus, and how to retain a national Chinese identity while acknowledging intercultural difference. There was no talk of ‘de-colonising’ anything, but of national and cultural re-positioning via the positive principle of ‘differance’. All the while the hard power spectre of North Korea and America rumbled in the background.
The CASS folks found in British Cultural Studies a means to international negotiation. Stuart Hall, one of the founding fathers (and a strong supporter of UKZN’s own CCMS) had in the 1960s developed his seminal theory of identity as a moving target by drawing on Derrida’s linguistic deconstructionist concept. Identity exists in ‘difference’ between cultures, but is popularly taken as fixed and immutable, as in expression like “In my culture, we …” versus its dynamic imperative which admits change and adaptation, mobility and hybridity. It is the latter relational forms through which China is looking to negotiate its global relations in the post-millennium world. This is a future-oriented, not a past-oriented, discursive an foreign policy strategy. It is certainly not a path-dependent victimological one. Blame is not an agenda item. But construction is. No burning, but building.
The Shanghai Translation and Dubbing Festival reminded me of my mid-1970s film career when I co-owned and worked in a 16mm dubbing and sound effects studio in Johannesburg. I’d cleaned up the sound track on a Devenish/Fugard film, and performed, recorded and edited sound effects on TV dramas. I knew what was being censored by the dubbing directors contracted to the SABC and I knew how little we actually knew about dubbing and translation. Now, we know there is now a PhD in the subject at CUC. The CUC-derived bodies of theory and practice would be a boon to the Afrikaans-and Zulu-language film sectors, with English captions translating Afrikaans and isiZulu dialogue and also into Chinese.
The Festival programme talked about “mutual translation” in the context of mutual appreciation and intercultural understanding. The week that I departed for China in early June was when the “Belt and Road” initiative, begun in 2015, had grabbed the international headlines. As part of BRICS, South Africa could be part of this globalising market phenomenon – though we are well off the historical beaten track, tucked away in the deep south, well away from the original Silk east-west roads and maritime routes. Let’s just hope that we can keep our own country on the financial rails as in contrast to efficient service delivery and corruption-busting China, the Guptoids are dragging South Africa back to new kind of inter-familist colonialism that has nothing to do with mutual co-operation, going abroad or internationalisation at any level.
China has a strategy. It is affirming its growing place in the new world order that is emerging. Translation studies, English language courses and the study of the Western Humanities, in conjunction with fast trains and the Olympics, are top of the agenda. We can in South Africa learn from this big, forward, thinking. Will the BRICS countries benefit from such planning? The Chinese Ministry of Culture is even borrowing from my own academic travelling as a researcher and published on 11 September 2017 a Chinese translation of this column, along with an earlier English version – see: http://www.cctss.org/show/newsdetail/87431f92fdfb4a2d8d9cdcf1ce3b0743
UKZNdaba is going abroad also.
• Keyan Tomaselli is a UKZN Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor at the University of Johannesburg. He is also known in China as Ke Yan.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.